The Recidivism Trap

Commentary Counting failure is no way to encourage success Jeffrey A. Butts and Vincent Schiraldi Any discussion of criminal justice policy inevitably includes the word “recidivism.” Usually more than once. Recidivism is the reoccurrence of crime among people known to have committed crimes before. At all levels of justice, from local probation offices to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, if we judge the impact of interventions at all, we do so in part by measuring recidivism. In a report we published today with the Harvard Kennedy School, we conclude that recidivism is often the wrong measure. And using it exclusively…

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Recidivism Reconsidered

  Preserving the Community Justice Mission of Community Corrections Jeffrey A. Butts and Vincent Schiraldi Recidivism is not a robust measure of effectiveness for community corrections agencies. When used as the sole measure of effectiveness, recidivism misleads policymakers and the public, encourages inappropriate comparisons of dissimilar populations, and focuses policy on negative rather than positive outcomes. Policymakers who focus on recidivism as evidence of justice effectiveness are confusing a complex, bureaucratic indicator of system decision-making with a simple measure of individual behavior and rehabilitation. Recidivism is at least in part a gauge of police activity and enforcement emphasis and, because…

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Positive Outcomes

This report reviews a number of prominent frameworks that are available to help youth justice systems rely on positive outcomes rather than recidivism to measure their effectiveness. These include the Developmental Assets model, the 5Cs model, the Youth Program Quality Assessment model, the Positive Youth Justice model, and the Youth Thrive framework. Each model or framework aligns with the key principles of positive youth development as well as the large body of research on desistance from crime, which is also presented in this report.

Juveniles Lead Adults in Declining Rate of Drug Crime

Based on statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and disseminated by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) within the U.S. Department of Justice, the national decline in arrests for drug offenses since the 1990s was more prolonged among juveniles than it was among adults age 18 and older.